Victoria dominates FFA Cup, with NSW and Queensland trailing PFA study reveals

The FFA Cup has only been going for three years but already it has captured the imagination of the soccer public – nowhere more so than in Victoria.

Two of the three FFA Cup winners – Melbourne Victory in 2015 and Melbourne City in 2016 – come from the state capital, while two National Premier League Victoria clubs, Hume City and Bentleigh Greens, have made the semi final.

The first winner, Adelaide, came from South . Beaten finalists Perth Glory (2014 and 2015) and Sydney (2016) came from WA and NSW respectively.

Queensland teams have fared poorly, with not even one side from the Sunshine State making it to the last four, something the ACT achieved last year when Canberra Olympic lost to Sydney.

Unlike the other footballing codes in which matches invariably are won by the highest quality team or the one that dominates possession, soccer lends itself to more regular upsets.

It is impossible to imagine a genuine knockout Cup competition in n Rules football or the rugby codes where power, strength and possession invariably determine results. State and second tier teams would have little chance even against the struggling top level teams due to the quality differential in players and the disparity in resources.

But the nature of soccer makes it much more possible for “mismatches” to provide compelling contests.

In soccer tactics can play a much greater role, with teams who can organise themselves defensively able to frustrate better credentialed opponents and sometimes score a goal on the break with what might be their only real attack of the match.

In footy or rugby, if a team has three times the number of inside 50s, entries near the try line or set shots for goal as its opponent, it’s not going to lose.

After three FFA Cup competitions it is possible to mine the data to find evidence of why and how the tournament – outside the obvious romance of a lower team knocking over a so-called superior – is popular, and what trends are emerging in the early years.

The Cup offers teams from all over the country from every tier of football the chance to progress and meet an A-League side in a knockout game.

As such it draws a huge entry. Data from a detailed survey of the FFA Cup collated by the players union, the PFA, shows that in year one of the competition 589 clubs entered, with over half coming from Victoria and NSW.

By the third year (2016) the number had grown by almost 20 per cent, with 700 teams entering from the earliest stages with, once again, the two most populous states providing the greatest number.

As there are only 10 A-League clubs, the vast majority of entrants come from the FFA’s “Member Federations”.

Of those the most successful – if success is measured by performance of second tier sides from the round of 32 onwards, which is when A-League teams come into the draw – is Victoria.

Teams from the NPL Victoria and lower Victorian leagues have played 30 matches at this stage of the competition and won 14, drawing five and losing only 11 for a win percentage of 47 per cent. Not all those games have been against A-League opposition, of course, but Victorian NPL teams Bentleigh Greens (2014) and Hume City (2015) have both progressed to the semi final, while Green Gully and Bentleigh both made the quarter finals in 2016.

Perhaps surprisingly the next best percentage performers have been clubs from the ACT and South , both from a much lower sample of seven matches. Teams from Adelaide and Canberra have won three of those encounters, giving them a 43 per cent success rate.

Teams from NSW have a relatively poor rate in comparison. Clubs affiliated to the Football NSW region won seven out of 26 games from the round of 32 onwards, drawing two and losing 17 for a 27 per cent record. Teams from the Northern NSW area have a much lower success rate than those from Canberra or Adelaide even though they played the same number of matches – seven. Northern NSW teams won only once at this stage of the competition, losing five and drawing once for a 14 per cent strike rate.

Queensland clubs fared reasonably well in broad terms, winning seven out of 20 for a 35 per cent hit rate, but rarely at the latter stages of the tournament, with none having ever made a semi final.

Given the nature of the fixtures – where there are teams of various mixed abilities – the scores in games tend to be bigger than on average.

The PFA data shows that the average FFA Cup goals per game ratio has been around 4.5 per match for the three seasons of the competition, some 50 per cent more than the just under three goals a game averaged in A-League contests in the same period.

The story is much closer, it should be pointed out, from the round of 32 onwards when the A-League sides enter. Games become tighter and more evenly matched, and although the FFA Cup average is above three, the goals per game ratio is much more in line with the A-League.

It would seem counter-intuitive to think that the part timers of the Member Federation clubs would have a better away record than the professionals of the A-League, but that’s how things have emerged from the statistics of the first three years of the competition.

Non A-League teams have, on average, won 48 per cent of their away games compared to the 39.2 score for A-League sides on the road. Competition rules state that when an A-League side is drawn against a Member Federation team it has to play its fixtures at the lower ranked club’s ground.

“Despite lacking the fully professional logistical support of A-League teams, Member Federation clubs travelling interstate in the FFA Cup actually outperform A-League away teams. Perhaps the novelty and camaraderie of travelling away together has elevated the performance of these teams for one-off matches,” the report suggests.

Perhaps not surprisingly the average age of Member Federation club players is much lower – at 24.9 years – than that of A-League teams in Cup matches, where the average is 27.1. NPL teams tend to have younger players hoping to make a breakthrough and find a route into the professional game.

Member Federation clubs are also much likelier to play teenagers in Cup games according to the PFA data: some 13.5 per cent of appearances by players in Member Federation teams were made by teenagers compared to less than 7 per cent by A-League teams in Cup games.

The Allan Border medal: Three-way battle for cricket’s highest individual honour

The battle to be crowned ‘s best cricketer – and potentially highest paid – is expected to be tight at the Allan Border medal count in Sydney on Monday night.

Skipper Steve Smith, his deputy David Warner and spearhead Mitchell Starc are expected to lead the overall count to claim the Allan Border medal in a year when they have been central to ‘s fortunes.

Smith has enjoyed fruitful Test and short-form campaigns, Warner has gorged on runs in the 50-overs format, while Starc has been particularly potent in the Test arena. The weighted voting system towards Tests – they are given three-times the value of Twenty20 internationals and double one-day internationals – ensures the game’s traditional format remains key to the overall count.

The voting period is from January 8 last year to January 7 this year, and includes the Test series victory in New Zealand, the 3-0 Test series loss in Sri Lanka, the 5-0 one-day series defeat in South Africa and a tumultuous home summer where the team rose from the depths of despair against South Africa to crunching Pakistan.

Smith was the dominant Test batsman, thumping 1162 runs at 68.35, including four centuries. Warner averaged less than 40 with the bat but was brilliant in the 50-overs format, thumping seven centuries at 63.09, and appears certain to be crowned one-day international player of the year. These performances, along with his contributions in the Test arena, may be enough to have him crowned the Border medallist.

Starc was absent from the tour of New Zealand because of injury but was by far his team’s best player in Sri Lanka, claiming 24 wickets at 15.16. He would have a combined 28 wickets in six home Tests, finishing the voting period with 52 wickets at 24.29.

Smith, Warner and Starc are also set to jostle for the honour of being the No.1 ranked player when the national selectors and Cricket do their next round of lucrative contracts. Test matches hold the balance of power in the list, while claiming the Allan Border medal could also be a pivotal factor. Regardless, the three appear certain to occupy the leaderboard and pocket more than $2 million each when the contracts are announced in April.

Pay discussions over a new memorandum of understanding between CA and players which have reopened in recent days could mean CA-ranked players enjoy even greater financial spoils from next year should the governing body get its way. CA wants only the best players to share in the set percentage model – with a major raise – despite players at domestic and international level having enjoyed this system since 1997.

“As a principle for the new MOU, CA believes retainers for international men should increase significantly compared to the retainers that were agreed in the current MOU,” CA’s submission says.

Glenn Maxwell and Shane Watson, the latter by way of his strong form in the T20 World Cup, are expected to poll well for the T20 award.

All-rounder Ellyse Perry has again has been tipped to be named the Belinda Clark player of the year for her efforts in the one-day international and Twenty20 arenas, while Meg Lanning is likely to be crowned best domestic player. The Clark award, named after the former n captain and three-time World Cup winner, has been redesigned into a teardrop-shaped medallion.

“There is a strong tradition of recognising performances in the n team. However, what we were seeking was to create was something distinct and unique that recognised the level of performance that was being obtained,” Clark said.

“Similarly to the Allan Border Medal with its own look and feel, it’s appropriate that this award also has its own identity and we’re really excited with what we’ve come up with.”

Tim Lane: Nick Kyrgios’ failings play under the spotlight

Nick Kyrgios: It’s crucial for him that his tendency to self-destruct be properly addressed. Photo: Darrian TraynorWhen a live interview is likely to be prickly, an interviewer can feel somewhat apprehensive in the lead-up. As last Wednesday night’s match between Nick Kyrgios and Andreas Seppi neared its climax, Channel 7’s hired gun, Jim Courier, could be seen waiting in the shadows. A penny for his thoughts.

Would it be Seppi, or would it be Kyrgios? I’d wager Courier was putting more thought into how he’d handle the latter possibility. I’d also wager part of him hoped it would be the former. A brief, and very visible, chat about a performance as complex as that of Kyrgios wasn’t going to be easy.

Alone among the TV commentators in frankly addressing what had been happening on the court, Courier is sufficiently thorough that any such interview would cover all the bases.

As it turned out, it was Seppi. Which brings to mind an interesting aspect of the television coverage of well-established, highly professionalised events like major tennis championships. For Kyrgios was the story. Yet there are limits to the control exercised by the rights-holding network.

Which is in contrast to sporting competitions still in the development phase. Later that same evening, during Ten’s coverage of The Big Bash League, Shane Watson admitted he was doing an interview under sufferance, having a few minutes earlier lost his wicket in frustrating circumstances.

Entertainment prevails in the still-developing BBL and the players play the game.

Leading up to Watson’s dismissal, the entertainment mindset was overplayed when the commentators passed statistical information to the Adelaide Strikers’ captain, Brad Hodge, live to air. This related to a particular bowler’s previous success against Watson. Even in Big Bash this was beyond the pale and cricket officialdom has reminded Network Ten of the integrity issues involved.

Such is the BBL’s nature that its organisers must think hard about how the balance between sport and entertainment is struck. The previous night, there had been media criticism of the fact that Brendon McCullum was prevented from playing for the Brisbane Heat against the Melbourne Stars due to suspension. As the Heat’s captain, McCullum had been twice adjudged responsible for overseeing slow over rates.

In the opinion of some, he was too important a drawcard to be sidelined and organisers owed it to the crowd to let him play.

The moral of this story? Even where rules clearly exist, it doesn’t take long for pressure to mount that they be ignored … in the interests of entertainment of course.

Back to Kyrgios, and if he continues on his current path he could become the saddest form of sporting entertainment: the John Daly type. If that sounds over-the- top, consider what will be scrutinised more closely when next he plays, his form or his behaviour? It’s crucial for him that his tendency to self-destruct be properly addressed.

While his performance on Wednesday night was irksome to watch, it’s important to recognise we don’t know the whole Kyrgios story. The morning after the night before, I had a chance encounter with one who does have some insights. He argued strenuously that this isn’t a bad young man, pointing to some excellent qualities. Not least of these was the manner in which he conducts his relationship with his girlfriend: a rare and revealing observation by a worldly, older man of a younger one.

Nevertheless, Kyrgios must take personal responsibility for his serial failings. His refusal to do this probably irritates ns more than anything else.

In the days before the n Open, he did a media conference wearing a T-shirt which declared “F— Donald Trump”. Here was youth expressing itself ’60s-style on a big issue.

But I wonder if Kyrgios has worked through all the things he abhors about Trump, for one of these might be the new American President’s pathological inability to accept criticism. If he gets to this point, Kyrgios might see a similarity between Trump’s response to Meryl Streep and his own to John McEnroe.

Something else Kyrgios might ponder is the observation made long ago of Jimmy Connors, in which a writer imagined the abrasive “Jimbo” as a 50-year-old, “sitting alone in an airport between flights, over a cup of coffee, faced with the shards of his past. He will be a man then and he will wish that as a boy he had done it better.” After Kyrgios’ meltdown in Shanghai last October, Connors tweeted an offer to mentor the n. Now, in Melbourne at his national championship, and before the eyes of the tennis world, Kyrgios has performed in a way that McEnroe has described as giving tennis a black eye.

For this pair of erstwhile enfants terribles to recoil at what they’re seeing is significant. Since their playing days ended, both McEnroe and Connors have written autobiographies acknowledging the behavioural failings of their competitive years. Each would agree that as a boy he could have done it better.

McEnroe and Connors won so often, though, that they got away with a lot. Sports fans are invariably more forgiving of winners.

On Wednesday night, Kyrgios lost and was booed.

Yet to merely say he lost is an over-simplification. For I suspect that as his contest with Seppi neared its conclusion, something within his psyche wouldn’t allow Kyrgios to win. He was like a boy who knew he’d done wrong and that it wouldn’t be right – indeed would be embarrassing – to take the prize.

Thus, among myriad other perverse behaviours, we saw him play one shot so inappropriate to the circumstances as to risk giving the game away. In more ways than one.

It told the crowd he didn’t care whether he won or lost. And it revealed him as a confused young man caught in the spotlight.

One Nation’s James Ashby places himself in the background behind Pauline Hanson

Pauline Hanson has likened her staffer to a son. Photo: Lisa Maree Williams James Ashby films a refugee protest at Parliament House in November 2016. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
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James Ashby has been in the spotlight throughout his diverse career. Photo: Nic Walker

Senator Pauline Hanson and her increasingly powerful chief of staff James Ashby. Photo: Andrew Meares

Everywhere James Hunter Ashby goes, he becomes the story.

From radio stations to strawberry fields, political offices to printing firms, each step in the 37-year-old’s career has been smudged with newspaper ink, detailing the unusual, the unlucky and the unreal.

His infamy and reputation has bestowed him with single-name status within political circles, where he is known just as “Ashby”, two syllables which have come to represent both the rise and fall of One Nation, depending on who you talk to.

Not since Peta Credlin has a staffer so captured the story, the myth blending with reality until whispered tales are simultaneously believed and dismissed.

“But this attention is different from Credlin,” one conservative staffer said, on the condition of anonymity.

“People were interested in the control Credlin had in that office, and the stories that came from it, and her role in the government. But with Ashby, well, it’s just Ashby, isn’t it? Everything that happens, Ashby is seen as having a role, as if no one can believe that anyone else there is making decisions.

“Where Credlin was the subject of the stories – and the more the wheels came off, the bigger that subject became – Ashby is the story. I can’t explain it, but it’s in how people talk about him.”

Talk has always followed Ashby – he’s too “controlling”, he’s “obsessive”, he wants it all. In the 45th Parliament, James Ashby is the name on everyone’s lips – as long as those lips aren’t identified.

“I’ll tell you what I think about him, but I can’t have my name attached,” is the common refrain when his name is mentioned by a journalist, along with any multitude of reasons – “we have to work with him” and “words come back to bite” among the most common.

Everyone has something to say – except for Ashby himself.

“I’m not interested in any profile, thanks. I’m happy being a staffer behind the scenes, but I appreciate your offer,” he messaged, in response to a request for an interview.

But no matter what career he’s dabbled in, he hasn’t stayed behind the scenes for long.

In 2002 he made headlines while a fledging radio broadcaster, after pleading guilty to using a carriage service in an offensive manner by “verbally harassing” a rival in Newcastle.

Ashby called his competitor telling him “next time I see you riding on your f—ing bike, I’ll hit you, you dumb prick. F— it, if I was your mother, I would have drowned you at birth.”

Responding to questions after being handed a three-year good behaviour bond and a $2060 fine, Ashby passed the calls off as an “initial joke … taken a little too far and taken a little too seriously”.

“I didn’t expect the reaction, that’s why I called Jim immediately after I found out he’d taken them the wrong way and apologised. This was well before any charges were laid,” he said.

From there, Ashby headed to Townsville, where in 2005, he made the news again after his business, Newa Image Printers, was robbed of more than $12,000 in computer equipment in a “brazen daylight theft”.

He made his way back down the Queensland coast to his home region of the Sunshine Coast, where he began working at a strawberry farm, his name reappearing in news ink when it became the scene of an attempted crop poisoning.

Poison was discovered in a water tank, and Ashby, as the farm’s PR spokesman, was sent out to give comment to the media, labelling the attempted agricultural sabotage as “disturbing”.

Around the same time, he also began helping the state LNP with its social media campaigns.

“He recognised its power on the political scene earlier than most,” someone close to the LNP campaigns said. “And it’s something he’s still good at – you’ve seen Pauline’s social media. One Nation is bypassing the mainstream media almost entirely now. That’s got to be him. He knows it’s a way to get a lot of eyeballs on an unfiltered message.

“That isn’t Pauline Hanson tweeting under that handle.

“It’s smart and terrifying. A lot like how I’d describe him, to be honest.”

Margaret Menzel, chief of staff to former One Nation senator Rod Culleton, fell out early with Ashby when she overheard him questioning her appointment. The relationship never recovered, culminating in a phone-throwing incident – the second attached to Ashby – and the long term politico has nothing positive to impart.

“There is no reason, why, I could, in all fairness, recommend him to a voter,” she said.

“I haven’t seen anything I could recommend. That’s all I’ll say.”

He left the LNP to work for Peter Slipper – and the rest is history. For most, that saga would have been the end, but James Ashby has never followed established narratives.

The minority Gillard government had enticed Slipper from the Liberal Party to the crossbench with the speaker’s robes – a move designed to shore up its numbers in a tight Parliament. Ashby went with him, a loyal lieutenant, until 2012, when he accused the Sunshine Coast MP of sexual harassment, the allegation and resulting fallout soon catching Coalition heavyweights in its wake.

Slipper resigned as speaker and was defeated at the next election.

A federal court threw out the case, finding its “predominant purpose for bringing these proceedings was to pursue a political attack against Mr Slipper”. Ashby challenged those findings, and despite a procedural win along the way, he decided to drop the case in 2014.

In mid-2015 rumours began filtering through the Sunshine state that Ashby had revived his political career and was working with Pauline Hanson, flying her across Queensland in her latest bid to win a Senate seat.

He consented to cautious interviews, telling the media he had come across Hanson during his Newcastle radio career and she had struck a chord with him.

Described as “shy, a little jumpy” by some of those he came across on the hustings, he went from pilot to adviser in quick succession, the time the pair spent in the two-seated Jabiru light airplane forging the closest of relationships. Hanson even referred to Ashby as her “adopted son”.

Since returning to halls of Parliament House, he’s placed himself front and centre of the background.

He’s always in shot. Always in the crowd. Watching press conferences, filming protests, never far from Pauline while she’s in public, in and out of offices when she’s not.

He has asked to see the diaries of all One Nation senators, has been involved in the hiring of their staffers.

Jim Savage, One Nation’s Queensland state secretary in charge of the region which remains the party’s number one target and biggest supporter base, describes his leader’s right-hand man as “very likeable, very professional”.

Recent changes within the party’s organisation and its candidates – just weeks after they were first announced – have been laid squarely at Ashby’s feet.

“I’ve read all the comments about him – I can’t see it. All my dealings with James have been great,” he said.

“It’s like you’re talking about two different people.”

Which is the most common theme, when talking about James Ashby.

He’s alternatively painted as the Iago to Hanson’s general, the raven on her shoulder, slowly bringing about the party’s downfall, in his own quest for power, vengeance and control, and the dedicated, wiser, prodigal son, determined to support the party to long-term success and victory.

But whatever the ultimate answer, he remains the story.

“When an adviser gets a taste for the media, it always ends badly,” one long-term political operative said.

“It just depends for whom.”

Mike Baird was proud of his crack team, the Premier’s Implementation Unit. What fate awaits it now?

NSW Premier Mike Baird announced his retirement on Thursday, after almost a decade in NSW politics. Photo: James Alcock NSW Governor David Hurley and Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Pru Goward on White Ribbon day last year. Photo: Daniel Munoz
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Two weeks before Christmas, after an emotional morning at a memorial service for the victims of the Lindt café siege, Baird returned to his office to tackle human tragedy of a different kind.

Seated around a long table in the premier’s board room on level 20 of the Martin Place suite were more than a dozen senior bureaucrats, ministers and his most trusted advisers.

They’d been summoned by Baird to report on whether there was progress against one of the most  intractable social scourges facing the state: domestic violence. So far, the news was not heartening.

Among those at the meeting were ministers Gabrielle Upton and Pru Goward, departmental heads, and top aides to Baird including his departmental boss Blair Comley​, chief of staff Bay Warburton, and former editor of The n newspaper, Clive Mathieson, who’d come on board to help drive the Premier’s agenda.

Also present was one of Baird’s key appointments, Glenn King.

King, an energetic and affable former banker, had been appointed head of the Premier’s Implementation Unit – a 16-member crack team known internally as the PIU – set up a year earlier to ensure the bureaucracy made measurable progress in a dozen areas which Baird and his ministers had defined as their key priorities.

Little known outside government, Baird was proud enough of the PIU to make it a centrepiece of an address to the National Press Club late last year.

Behind the headlines – poles and wires, greyhounds, councils and tree cutting – this, he said, would be the engine room driving the changes he wanted to be remembered by.

“These Premier’s priorities, when people reflect back I’m sure people will talk about the infrastructure. But my hope is they look back at these priorities and think well this is something we’re going to continue because we know the good that they have achieved,” he told Canberra’s hard-bitten press gallery in late November.

“My hope is the next governments, whenever they come, they do exactly the same thing.”

Few noted at the time what appeared to be Baird paying particular attention to his legacy. This week’s abrupt departure has left NSW government insiders with a burning question.

What now of the PIU?  “All of this dies and fades away into bureaucracy unless the premier is personally invested in it” a member of Baird’s inner circle confided this week.

“If you lose focus at the top,  you can forget about this. Ultimately it will be up to the new premier to see whether it continues.”

Baird singled out 12 target areas for the PIU – a dramatic sharpening of focus from the 321 targets he’d inherited after taking over as premier.

Those dozen priority areas were in health (especially wait times in emergency departments), youth homelessness, faster housing approvals, job creation, infrastructure, domestic violence, childhood obesity, child protection (reducing the number of high risk children who went in and out of care), litter reduction,  greater public sector diversity,  improved government services, and education.

In each, there were clear targets set with specific deadlines.

In education, for instance, he announced the government would trial a program in 153 schools to lift the proportion of NSW students in the top two NAPLAN bands by 8 per cent by 2019.

Baird had pinched the PIU idea from former British prime minister Tony Blair who’d decided his first term had been “wasted” (to use Baird’s words) and wanted to achieve more in his second.

Blair brought in trusted education adviser, Michael Barber, to set up and run what became known as the Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit.  It was effective enough to inspire a number of other governments around the world to copy the idea, although Baird’s been the only leader to pick it up in .

London-based Barber  calls the approach “deliverology”. The daily grind of government bogs leaders down, he told Fairfax Media.  Better to choose a few key areas, set very specific targets ,and drive measurable progress there through small, high-powered, data-driven teams working across government.

For a do-er like Baird,a former investment banker,  the idea was hugely attractive. “What gets measured gets done,” Baird told the Press Club

He had to invest his own time and energy.  There would be monthly updates, and several times a year “deep dives” – such as the domestic violence meeting – to see whether the approach was making a difference.

“To me that’s power,” he said. “If you can get these priorities right at a premier’s desk, a cabinet table, all the way down to a school desk, well it’s working.”

Insiders say some progress is being made. The PIU’s fresh take on hospital data revealed that putting discharge doctors on at weekends would reduce the backlog of hospital beds facing emergency departments on Mondays and Tuesdays.  And that many elderly patients in hospital were taking up beds much longer than they needed to because of laggardly decisions over guardianship issues.

Social challenges are much tougher. “On domestic violence we are miles off track – it’s a shocker”, an insider admitted.

Blair’s delivery  unit was initially scrapped by successor David Cameron before the Tory government decided it wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

“If I were an incoming leader anywhere, I would look at [keeping or setting up] the equivalent of the PIU,” says  Barber, (now Sir Michael)

“I don’t mind whether governments are trying to be small or big, I want them to be effective. Because there is a loss of faith around the world in politics, and if government causes misery, as you see at the extreme end in somewhere like Libya, or if you  look at 30 years of incompetent government in Greece,  that is a big moral issue.”

It remains to be seen if Baird’s successor feels the same way.

Sydney murder case baffling police: How recluse Darren Galea was brutally executed

Darren Galea, in a photo alongside an orchid at his father’s home, lived a quiet life and had few social connections. Photo: Geoff Jones Darren Galea was shot in the head at close range under a bridge at the Duck River in Auburn. Photo: Kate Geraghty
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Darren Galea’s burnt-out Toyota corolla was found near his home about two hours after he was murdered. Photo: NSW Police

A white Toyota Corolla similar to the one seen with two men in it around the time of Mr Galea’s murder. Photo: NSW Police

A white Toyota Corolla similar to Mr Galea’s. Photo: NSW Police

In his decades in the police force, Homicide Squad Detective Inspector Mark Henney has never been confronted with such a baffling case.

How could a quiet, single man, with little interaction beyond his family and his work as a McDonald’s restaurant manager, meet with such a brutal death?

On January 16, 2014, 34-year-old Darren Galea left work about 4.30pm. He stopped at a flower shop to buy some orchid bulbs, his only hobby.

At home in his small South Wentworthville bungalow, he laid his uniform on the back of a chair.

Over the next four to six hours, police believe Mr Galea was kidnapped by two men – either from his home or when he travelled elsewhere – bound by the wrists, taken to a small reserve at the Duck River in Auburn and shot in the head.

He was not dragged to his execution. He walked, perhaps calmly, and lost a rubber thong along the way. Nearby residents heard shots ring out at about midnight.

An hour later, his car was driven to the cul-de-sac he often parked in and torched with his phone and wallet inside.

A walker found his body by the Duck River at 6am, initially thinking it might have been headless.

It was a cold execution befitting of Sydney’s underworld, far removed from Mr Galea’s life.

“When you weigh it up, the way he was killed and the life he lived, it doesn’t make sense,” Mr Henney said.

Marking the third anniversary of his death, police and Mr Galea’s family have appealed for any information about him, no matter how insignificant it may seem.

Ballistics testing on the bullet revealed the same gun was used in a drug-related shooting of a man in Auburn in 2012 and a Nomads bikie gang-related drive-by in Merrylands in 2011 targeting the Tajjour family, cousins of the notorious Ibrahim family.

Yet, there is nothing in Mr Galea’s life to point towards a murder motive. He had no debts, no links to criminals, no social circle and no substantial relationships beyond his family.

His text messages and phone calls involved his parents, siblings and work. Every person he communicated with has been accounted for.

Money from managing McDonald’s restaurants in Merrylands and Granville largely went to the mortgage for his home, where he like to grow orchids and tend to an aviary.

He didn’t use a computer and his electronic footprint was negligible.

“Normally, with victimology, we would ask: ‘Who did they associate with? Who were they in communication with? Let’s go through the list of people he knows’ but in this case, there is nothing,” Mr Henney said.

In a strange move, Mr Galea’s killers travelled to their victim’s home an hour later – despite the chance police might already have known of the murder – to park his car.

A nearby camera captured another set of headlights going in and out of the street. Mr Galea’s car was then found burnt out.

Police have previously appealed for information about an old white Toyota Corolla with two men seen in the area as well as any sightings of Mr Galea’s different model white Corolla.

The fact he was bound and walked to his death offers a small clue.

“Ordinarily, that would suggest they want something or they want information,” Mr Henney said. “All we know is that these people knew Darren and they wanted something from him.”

For Mr Galea’s father, who passed his love of orchids on to his son, a small orchid in his home just down the road from his late son’s is one of few lasting memories.

The orchid, propagated by the Parramatta & District Orchid Society in Mr Galea’s memory, is also a daily reminder of the answers the family don’t have.

“He used to work hard, he used to be generous with everybody, that’s why we don’t know what happened,” his father said. “One day he went out and didn’t come back. That’s all we know.”

Chinan students visit NASA mission control as part of STEM program

Sarah Mullins, a student at Queenwood, went to NASA. Photo: Ben RushtonSarah Mullins was sitting in science class when her ears pricked up. An opportunity to visit NASA Mission control was available, and she could not apply quickly enough to be part of the program.
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Upon hearing of her successful application, Sarah, 16, said that she felt “really, really excited about the opportunity” especially with the fierce competition for places across the country. Some of her Queenwood classmates missed out.

Sarah, along with 24 girls from other NSW schools, has now returned from NASA, inspired to pursue her passion for science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).

The two-week trip in December to the Houston Association for Space and Science Education included VIP tours of the NASA Mission Control facilities and first-hand access to space technology workshops as well as meetings with several astronauts.

The trip was arranged by the Alliance of Girls’ Schools Australasia (AGSA) and the Houston facility’s n partner, iVicon.

The Houston facility says that it aims to create “positive learning experiences that raise students’ and educators’ expectations of success; foster a long-term interest in mathematics, science, teamwork, creativity, and technology; and encourages them to pursue their dreams”.

Sarah, who is doing the International Baccalaureate and is in now year 12, was grateful for her parents’ support, both with her interest in engineering and paying for her  trip to NASA.

At NASA the students dined with Dr Leroy Chiao – an astronaut and former commander of the International Space Station Expedition 10 – who is now the Houston facility’s special adviser.

“It was also great to see the grey floors and everyone working on the space pods,” Ms Mullins said.

Another student who attended the exchange program was Pamela Di Chiara. The Santa Sabina College student said that the “program exceeded my expectations as I not only was able to learn about space but also learned life-long lessons such as teamwork, curiosity and having a great dream and believing in it.”

Both students also talked about their passion for science and engineering and how the space camp had given them an opportunity to succeed and not be limited by their gender.

“Girls can do whatever boys can do,” Sarah said.

Pamela said: “I wanted to go to space camp as I have always have had a passion for science, space and engineering and thus I wanted to explore into those disciplines.”

STEM has traditionally been viewed as a male domain, with young women less actively encouraged to go into related fields.

Sarah is studying higher maths, physics, Latin, French, geography and literature.

“One in 15 girls in my class are looking to do engineering,” Sarah said.

AGSA Communications Director Teva Smith highlighted the the aim of the “trip was to involve the girls in an unforgettable STEM related program that stepped beyond the traditional school subjects and demonstrate the incredible and unique future opportunities in science and engineering.”

The NASA space camp international study program ,which took nearly a year’s worth of preparation, also had student groups from Victoria, Queensland and Western .

High school students want more say in how to deter young terrorists

ACT students were part of discussions on how to address social exclusion and violent extremism. Photo: Virginia StarRadicalisation and violent extremism are set to become part of the curriculum as governments look for new ways to combat young people engaging in terrorism.
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As part of a wider consultation with young people, school students in the ACT, in years 7 to 11, were part of a pilot program to discuss the real-world issues and express their views on how to address the ever present threat.

National children’s commissioner Megan Mitchell said it was a credit to the ACT government and the commissioner that they talked directly to young people about these serious issues.

“Children and young people are the experts on their own lives and have much to teach us,” Ms Mitchell said.

“Failing to consult with young people when developing programs that directly affect them means that we are missing out on an important source of knowledge and expertise.”

The project involved about 200 students at both government and non-government schools. In 15 sessions across eight schools, students routinely identified terrorism in as an issue they cared most strongly about. Discrimination, bullying and treatment of animals were also identified as important issues.

Real life case studies were examined, including one on Jake Bilardi, a young suicide bomber who travelled from his home in Melbourne to carry out an attack in Iraq. Another was on Farhad Jabar, the 15-year-old who shot and killed an unarmed police civilian accountant in Parramatta. A third was Gerrah Selby, a young UK woman who was charged with planting hoax bombs and sending death threats to employees of a large company carrying out animal testing of products.

Many students noted that in each case, the young people gained a sense of belonging and acceptance from being part of a group who were pursuing a particular cause. They also noted both Bilardi and Jabar were reportedly bullied and isolated at school, making them more vulnerable.

The report stated students had an understanding of the circumstances that influenced choices the young people made, however they had no sympathy for the use of violence, which was strongly condemned.

The discussion led to what students could do, along with schools, families, communities and governments, to prevent young people from becoming involved in violent extremism.

One of the suggestions was to include more mechanisms at school for all students to talk about their opinions and express their point of view without being ignored, prohibited or ridiculed.

“If you’re told not to do something, it often makes it worse,” one student pointed out.

“If they had been listened to or had an opportunity to raise their views, they may not have done what they did,” another student noted.

It was clear from the statements made by students they wanted more opportunities at school to freely discuss complex issues.

According to a spokeswoman from the ACT government, the report  was one part of a larger suite of activities set to make up a “high level report to inform ACT government on actions needed to address any risks of radical extremism in our community”.

“The n government is also developing curriculum materials for use in secondary schools that will support teachers to discuss the issues of radicalisation and violent extremism.”

ACT commissioner for children and young people Jodie Griffiths-Cook said the students had a nuanced appreciation for the different motivations of the individuals in the case studies.

“Further, they appreciated that the mechanisms or interventions to assist young people to make alternative choices depend on individual circumstances, and made clear links to inclusion versus exclusion while identifying the relevance of isolation, loneliness and being marginalised or easily led,” Ms Griffiths-Cook said.

She said the views expressed by students in the consultation were both informative and pragmatic.

Program facilitator and former ACT commissioner for children and young people Alasdair Roy said he wasn’t aware of any engagement activities like the one held in Canberra.

“There are plenty of ‘programs’ which talk to young people about countering violent extremism, or tell young people what they can or can’t do or think or say, but we couldn’t find anything where someone had sought the views of young people, and genuinely and respectfully listened to what they had to say,” Mr Roy said.

The curriculum materials are expected to be available to schools in semester 2, 2017.

Chinan high school scores international green technology gong

Facing the future: Toby Thorpe ventures out from Huonville High. Photo: Peter Hannam Toby Thorpe, shares the stage with Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi (left) and Nursultan Nazarbayev, President of Kazakhstan. Photo: Supplied
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It’s not every day an n high school student from gets to share a stage with Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince, Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed and the President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev – and walks away with a $US100,000 ($132,000) prize.

But for 15 year-old Toby Thorpe, this week’s award ceremony in Abu Dhabi was merely the end of the beginning for a two-year plan to spur interest in renewable energy and energy savings among students and his local community south-west of Hobart.

​”It’s been a long time coming … now we can actually put our plan into action,” Mr Thorpe said. “It’s quite exciting.”

So far, about 20 students have helped design and install a pellet mill, bio digester, a bicycle-powered mobile cinema, and started work on a greenhouse made from 2500 recycled bottles.

The main venture, though, will now proceed with the funding from the Zayed Future Energy Prize. That venture will transform a decrepit former dental clinic at the school into a six-star energy rated training site on campus.

“It will be a research centre for students and an example for community members and other schools to learn what we’re doing so they can take it back and do it themselves,” Mr Thorpe said.

Those other schools may include fellow finalists for the Oceania category of the prize scooped by Huonville.

“[It’s] a lighthouse school for the region,” Geoff Williamson, the school’s principal said. “We’re already having conversations with Samoans and the Fijians – a lot of their projects are similar.”

And for Mr Thorpe, the adventure may be just beginning. His long-held plan to become a civil engineer with the n airforce may get a makeover after a visit to Abu Dhabi’s main renewable energy research centre, the Masdar Institute.

Follow Peter Hannam on Twitter and Facebook.

The author was a guest at IRENA’s seventh annual assembly and the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi.

Back-to-school: Parents deliberate over school shoes, from the dirt cheap to the brand names

Asha Taylor tries on new school shoes at Shoes & Sox, in Bondi Junction, Sydney. Photo: Janie Barrett Herbie Khan likes his new shoes, with his mother Nicole Graham. Photo: Janie Barrett
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Those $15 school shoes may be tempting, but be warned – a cheap and ill-fitting pair could cause corns, calluses, foot pain, lower back pain, and lasting damage.

“It’s endlessly sad. Poor fitting or poor quality footwear can contribute to kids coming home feeling tired, sore and irritable, not wanting to play sport, and sometimes in pain,” says Brendan Brown from A Step Ahead Podiatry.

It’s back-to-school shopping time, and thousands of parents are deliberating over schools shoes, from $12 leather mary janes at Big W to $160 Torandos from Clark’s.

Mr Brown says there are five features he always looks out for, and the cheaper the pair, the fewer of the features they are likely to possess. They are: Firm heel counterDoesn’t flex at the middleBends at the toeDoesn’t twistLace-ups

He recommends lace-ups, ahead of velcro, buckles, and slip-ons, in that order, because “laces can be tightened and loosened from your toes to your ankles, helping make the shoe fit more like a glove on your foot.”

He’s also a fan of black runners as an alternative, from brands such as ASICS and New Balance, which are increasingly moving into the market.

“Ascent has a range of school shoes they call ‘sports shoes in disguise’,” he says. “The biggest mistake I see parents making is buying shoes too big for their children’s feet.”

Karen Craig, retail director of Shoes & Sox, says black runners were a popular buy, with many children wearing school shoes for three days a week, and then swapping into more comfortable footwear for the other two days.

Clark’s Daytona leather lace-ups continue to be hugely popular among senior students, most likely because it comes in six widths.

Among junior boys, Clark’s Lochie velcro shoes with double straps are a common sight, while junior girls are exiting stores with a pair of Clark’s Indulge mary janes.

“Prices can vary depending on construction and width fitting. Our cheaper ones around $90 don’t have the range of width fittings,” says Ms Craig.

“The more expensive ones are all leather, and leather lined. At $90, they may have a synthetic inner, but they’re perforated, allowing the foot to breathe.”

Ms Craig says shoes should be properly fitted and last an entire year – that’s about 1300 hours of wear.

“You get what you pay for, because $30 shoes are tempting, but it’s all about the construction issues that are invisible to the consumer,” she says.

Ascent was able to nab the Australasian Podiatry Council’s exclusive endorsement two years ago after making an application, passing lab tests, and paying fees.

Before that, Clark’s enjoyed the industry’s exclusive endorsement.

George Wilson, APC’s business development manager, says the logo is meant to indicate to the public they can trust the product, “that’s all”.

“There’s no therapeutic benefit from wearing any sort of school shoes, but they’re well designed and do no harm, are well constructed, durable, and for those reasons they have our support,” he says. “The endorsement works like the National Heart Foundation’s tick.”

Zoe Taylor, mother-of-three, says comfort, durability and quality are the most important factors when shopping for school shoes for her children Eland, 11, Asha, 8, and Carter, 6.

“With Asha, we tried on lot of pairs, because her feet are very narrow, she wanted a certain style and it took us a few goes to get one that was actually good,” she says.

Nicole Graham, from Randwick, says $100 was a lot of money to spend on shoes, but she wanted her son Herbie, who is entering kindergarten, to be “really comfortable because he has to walk to school everyday”.

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AMA doctors accuse Labor of undermining confidence in health system

Labor’s health spokesman Walt Secord, left, with Opposition Leader Luke Foley. Photo: Jane Dyson n Medical Association NSW President Brad Frankum. Photo: Harriet Alexander
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NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner.

The head of the influential doctors lobby has called out the Opposition’s criticisms of the health system under minister Jillian Skinner as unhelpful and corrosive and urged Labor not to use hospitals to push its own political agenda.

n Medical Association NSW president Brad Frankum said he planned to meet Opposition Leader Luke Foley to address his concerns about Labor’s attacks on Mrs Skinner, which were having a knock-on effect for doctors and nurses working in the system.

“I would urge people on both sides of politics to not use critical incidents in hospitals as a way of pushing party political agendas because it’s very damaging to clinicians and hospitals but most importantly to patients in the system,” Mr Frankum said.

“I understand that politically, in the short term, it’s probably successful, but you’ve got to be careful what sort of health system you want to inherit if it does end up in getting you votes.”

Mrs Skinner weathered a series of health scandals last year, including the gassing of two babies at Bankstown Hospital that left one brain damaged and the other dead, chemotherapy under-dosing at St Vincents Hospital, body mix-ups at Royal North Shore Hospital in which a baby was wrongly cremated and unapproved antibiotic use by doctors.

Labor’s health spokesman Walt Secord has repeatedly called for her resignation, saying that she was covering up a crisis in the health system.

He told Fairfax Media he stood by his criticisms of the minister and would be delighted to meet Dr Frankum to discuss health policy.

“I want to work with doctors, nurses and allied health professionals to restore public confidence in the NSW health and hospital system, which has been destroyed by Jillian Skinner,” Mr Secord said.

“As the Labor health spokesperson, my job and energies are spent solely on standing up for patients and their families – and advocating for them when they are let down by the state government. That has occurred repeatedly under Jillian Skinner.”

“I think Mrs Skinner has done a woeful job as health minister. The new premier must replace Jillian Skinner immediately.”

Premier Mike Baird was under pressure to drop Mrs Skinner from the portfolio in the cabinet reshuffle that was to occur before he blindsided colleagues with his resignation announcement on Thursday.

Mr Foley told reporters on Friday that Mrs Skinner was like a “cockroach” in her tenacity.

“She would survive a nuclear winter,” he said.

Dr Frankum said while he expected Labor to hold the government to account, some of its attacks were irresponsible – such as pre-empting the findings of the St Vincents chemotherapy scandal – or nonsensical – such as blaming the government for the rise in Salmonella cases.

“I’m very non-partisan but I’m concerned about people not ambulance chasing because it really undermines the confidence that the public has in the health system.”

Clinicians were able to work more effectively when Andrew McDonald, a paediatrician by trade, was the health spokesman for Labor, he said.

“We were able to go on with our job without worrying that every incident in the hospital system would end up on the front page and that’s important because it had become extremely toxic through the last government’s term,” Dr Frankum said.

“I’m seeing a swing back to that now and I think that’s really retrograde.”

Mrs Skinner told her local newspaper the Mosman Daily on Thursday that she wanted to continue as health minister, but would support the leader in any event.

“I will do whatever Gladys wants me to do,” Mrs Skinner said.

WNBL: Canberra Capitals fight to win against Bendigo to keep Carly Wilson’s fairytale alive

Lauren Mansfield scored 19 points against Bendigo. Photo: Elesa Kurtz Jazmon Gwathmey. Photo: Elesa Kurtz
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Canberra Capitals star Marianna Tolo says the players will use Carly Wilson’s retirement as the extra motivation for their push to end a five-season finals drought.

The Capitals edged closer to an elusive play-off berth with a gritty win against the Bendigo Spirit on Saturday night, blowing the visitors away in the final quarter to secure a 77-63 triumph.

Tolo was the standout again with 28 points and nine rebounds and was backed up by workhorse point guard Lauren Mansfield, with the duo combining for more than half of Canberra’s final score.

But the underlying inspiration came from Wilson, who announced last week she was retiring at the end of the season after almost 20 years in the WNBL.

The Capitals’ post-match huddle made special mention of making a charge for Wilson to give her a chance to finish her career with a fairytale fourth championship.

The Capitals have won 10 games this year and will walk a finals tightrope in the last six games of the year as they target a finals return for the first time since the 2010-11 campaign.

“We had to keep fighting to wear them down and we really kicked it up a gear in the last couple of minutes,” Tolo said.

“The announcement of Willo’s retirement is more motivation for us and we’re going to go into every game like it’s our last game.

“We’ve really got to fight because we know we’re coming from behind on the ladder, we know we’ve got a bit of catching up to do.

“We’re just praying for some results, but we’re doing everything we can to take care of our own business.

“Willo’s retirement adds a bit of fiestiness and a bit of fight for us. You want a player to have that dream finish to their career and for Willo, someone who’s been here so long, we’re doing everything we can to fight for her.”

Canberra has no beaten every team in the competition and toppling the Spirit will give the Capitals the confidence they need if they break into the play-offs.

Their next test is an Day clash against the second-placed Sydney Flames at Tuggeranong on Thursday, with both teams desperate for victory so close to the end of hte regular season.

The Capitals trailed by as many as 15 points in the opening half and had to wait until late in the third quarter to mount their challenge for the lead.

Bendigo was playing its second game in less than 24 hours after making the draining journey from Townsville to Canberra on the morning of the game to back up.

But every time the Capitals threatened to blast the visitors away with some Tolo magic or a Lauren Mansfield long bomb, the Spirit kept clawing their way back into the contest.

The score was locked at 56-all at three-quarter time and the lead continually traded hands until the Capitals opened up their biggest lead of the game with just two minutes left.

The Spirit didn’t have enough energy to get back into the game and Tolo killed off their last-minute hopes to snatch a 14-point triumph.

“Bendigo is a really tough team. It qas quite physical but I was glad we were able to execute down the stretch,” Mansfield said.

“That’s huge for us, it’s our third win in a row and we hadn’t beaten Bendigo yet so that’s really nice because we can go into the finals with a lot of confidence.

“We’re really hoping to get into those finals … Willo got a bit emotional at the end. She’s our leader and we want to send her out the right way.”


CANBERRA CAPITALS 77 (Marianna Tolo 28, Lauren Mansfield 19, Mikaela Ruef 7) bt BENDIGO SPIRIT 63 (Kelsey Griffin 20, Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe 13, Nadeen Payne 10) at Tuggeranong Basketball Stadium on Saturday night. Crowd: 825.

BBL06: Sydney Sixers through to Big Bash League semi-finals after defeating Melbourne Stars

Power: Sean Abbott rescued the Sydney Sixers against the Melbourne Stars as he led them to a semi-final. Photo: Scott Barbour – CAThe Sydney Sixers have booked a ticket to Brisbane for the semi-finals after coming back from the brink of elimination to beat an undermanned Melbourne Stars at the MCG on Saturday night.
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Sean Abbott silenced the partisan crowd of 46,671 with a whirlwind innings that turned impending defeat into a stirring three-wicket victory.

The come-from-behind win sets up a clash with Brendon McCullum’s Brisbane Heat at the Gabba on Wednesday night for a berth in this summer’s Big Bash final. The Stars blew a chance to book a home final and must now travel to Perth for their semi on Tuesday.

The Sixers’ campaign was destined for the scrapheap after Nic Maddinson departed in the 15th over but they were rescued by the hitting power of Abbott and the smarts of veteran Johan Botha.

The pair added 59 off 28 balls for the seventh wicket to lift their side into the four at the expense of the Melbourne Renegades, who needed the Stars to win to keep their season alive.

Abbott came into the state scene as bowling all-rounder but his batting had failed to live up to expectations. But he saved one of his best innings at domestic level when the Sixers needed him most. He finished unbeaten on 33 off only 17 balls, seeing the Sixers home with an over to spare.

“To play the way he did will do wonders for his confidence,” Brad Haddin said.

The Sixers were under pressure in both innings of the game but each time they delivered the goods late.

A score around 180 was on the cards for the Stars, who were missing six first-choice players to injuries or international selection, they lost seven wickets in the final 27 balls for just 26 runs.

The Sixers would have had their sights on getting stuck into the Stars’ undermanned middle order but were made to wait before they could get through their high-class top three.

The Stars were given a strong start by foundation duo Rob Quiney and Luke Wright, who brought up their team’s 50 within the first five overs.

Quiney was looking particularly potent but after reaching 35 in a hurry clipped one off his hip to short fine leg.

It proved an important dismissal, as Quiney was threatening to destroy the Sixers and it brought about a more conservative approach from the Stars, who were wary of exposing their less experienced batsmen.

With Nathan Lyon hard to get away, the Sixers were able to rein in the Stars during the middle overs but the hosts were still well placed for a total in excess of 180.

Lyon claimed the key wicket of Wright, who made 62 off 47 balls, allowing the Sixers to capitalise on the Stars’ shallow batting.

Haddin turned the clock back by taking a one-handed classic to remove Seb Gotch though his juggled stumping of Evan Gulbis was not his smoothest piece of glovework.